USS Thresher

Arlington National Cemetery

Memorial Project


SUBSAFE Program: The Legacy of USS THRESHER


The loss of THRESHER was the genesis of the SUBSAFE Program.  In June 1963, in the aftermath of the loss of Thresher while investigations, design reviews and testimony to congress were in progress the SUBSAFE Program was created.


The purpose of the SUBSAFE Program is to provide maximum reasonable assurance of

watertight integrity and recovery capability of a Submarine.  A culture of Safety is central to the entire Navy submarine community.  This starts at the designers, and includes builders, operational crews as well as maintenance organizations.  The SUBSAFE Program clearly defines non-negotiable requirements, requires annual training of personnel and then ensures compliance with reviews including audits and independent oversight.  The annual training requirement includes review of past failures including the loss of Thresher.


In order to submerge, a submarine must be SUBSAFE certified.  This is a process, not just a final step.  SUBSAFE certification covers design, installed material, fabrication processes and as well as comprehensive testing.  In these areas, documentation must be exact and based on objective quality evidence.  This means that records back to original material composition as well as detailed testing results must be reviewed and retained throughout the life of a submarine.


To many the detailed requirements, rigorous training, constant review and questioning attitude, as well as the meticulous record keeping may seem excessive, but the program is successful.  In the 48 years before SUBSAFE there were 16 non-combat related submarine losses, an average of one every three years.  Since inception of the SUBSAFE program only one submarine, USS Scorpion SSN 589 – has been lost, and it was not a SUBSAFE certified submarine.  In the 50 years since the inception of the SUBSAFE program, there has not been a loss of a SUBSAFE certified submarine.  The SUBSAFE program has been utilized as a safety standard when analyzing the loss both Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia.


The SUBSAFE Program is the legacy of those lost on USS Thresher – and it has made a lasting significant contribution to the Submarine Force, the United States Navy and to our Nation.


RADM J. Clarke Orzalli USN (Retired)

Chairman SUBSAFE Oversight Council 2010-2012



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